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Panning For Plovers

  • Sat 23rd Feb, 2019

Wide open spaces and big landscapes free the mind and our spirits can fly, but without the birds, butterflies and beetles we have no jewels, the sparkle is gone. On our doorstep is a goldmine, the big heather dominated hills of the North York Moors National Park and these hills hide treasures worthy of any pioneer.

March is a great month to hit this rolling space with your ear pans aimed at the sky. European golden plovers arrive from their wintering grounds and start singing on high, the males fly to great heights above their prospective territory and sing their hearts out.

Male European Golden Plover © Richard BainesMale European Golden Plover © Richard Baines  

It’s an eerily beautiful sound carrying far and wide on the breeze. Trying to spot the highest birds can be tricky so if you can’t see them don’t get frustrated, just stretch your ears and listen, immerse yourself in this very special sound. Below the singing birds are goldies on the ground, listen out for their plaintive call which can help you find them amongst the burnt heather.

Female European Golden Plover © Richard BainesFemale European Golden Plover © Richard Baines  

European golden plovers choose places to nest and feed with very short tundra like vegetation. This tiny micro habitat, rich in mosses, plants such as sundew and open ground, not only gives these long-legged birds space to run it also harbours their invertebrate food.

Heath Goldsmith © Richard BainesHeath Goldsmith © Richard Baines  

Look out for the brightest most precious of insect jewels, the heath goldsmith beetle. I was very excited to find one whilst watching goldies a few years ago. It was stuck inside a red grouse gravel tray, the sun hit its wings and splintered into a rainbow of colour. I was immediately in awe of its beauty.

Northern Lapwing © Richard BainesNorthern Lapwing © Richard Baines  

Alongside the European golden plovers and goldsmiths are the emerald jewels, the peewits. Shining bright and green, northern lapwings are much more in your face than the goldies. You really can’t miss their tumbling display flight, flashing black and white across the sky. In a similar way to goldies they love to nest on open, sparsely vegetated ground. When their chicks are born in early summer, they need to be able to see above the vegetation for danger. This can however bring them into habitat which is closer to roads and traffic hazards. These grassy and often wetter strips of land are ideal for lapwings so please be careful when driving across the moors in the nesting season March-July.

Northern Lapwing with chicks, how many legs can you see? © Richard BainesNorthern Lapwing with chicks, how many legs can you see? © Richard Baines  

March 2018 will be remembered for the ‘beast from the east’ freezing temperatures and snow on the hills just when goldies and peewits arrived back to nest. Let’s hope this March brings more settled weather to allow this rich vein of birdlife time to settle down and breed. If things go well by early May you may be lucky enough to see the next generation of jewels. Tiny goldie chicks or wee peewits hiding under their parents’ wings.

Richard Baines YCN